News: A Growing But Decaying Genre

12 Feb,2021

 

 

Shailesh Kapoor

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

2020 was a big year for news, not just in India but worldwide. Covid-19 singlehandedly ensured that news became more relevant than ever before. Other political events, especially those in the US, further added to growing interest in news. India also had a busy news year, with the central government being fairly visible through the year, via announcements, addresses to the nation, the works.

On television itself, news gained three percentage points in viewership share in the primetime. The news genre on TV contributed 11% to the total primetime viewership in urban India in 2020, up from 8% in 2019. The growth in nonprime time was even higher. Growth of digital and social media news consumption in this period may be as high as 70%, going by some estimates.

We are in a new year, and Covid-19 has moved to the background, but there’s enough happening on the news front, nevertheless. The 2020 spike may not be a temporary one after all. We can expect news to continue to find more takers in an environment that’s more politically polarised than ever before.

Yet, in all this, news television in India has had a troubled year. The genre has become a worthy candidate for spoofs and satires, having acquired entertainment connotations over time. In our Fact Or Fake survey in the second half of 2020, television ranked third to print and radio on credibility, amidst widespread concerns about news credibility across media in general. In the second round of that survey that’s due shortly, I suspect television news may have a tough time clinging on to its below-par credibility rating.

One may have thought that the pressure of the TRPs, as TV ratings are popularly called, has led to this concern. But there have been no channel-level TV ratings for the news genre for about five months now. Yet, the tone and tenor of news presentation on television seems as problematic as earlier. It seems, then, that the problem is of the caliber and the mindset of editors and journalists, whose brains have been so hardwired to operate in a sensationalist manner in a ratings-driven environment over two decades. There has been too much attention around English news in the media. But the problem is equally big, if not bigger, with Hindi and regional news channels.

Now, if this observation was about entertainment, one could (and should) ask: Who decides what’s in good taste? But for news, that question can be answered more objectively. News comes with its share of social responsibility, and it is difficult to turn a blind eye to that idea, even if no one in the business itself seems to care much about it.

Many dissatisfied and lapsed consumers of TV news believe digital news will be the answer. That’s easier said than done. The Indian market thrives on video content, and WhatsApp videos remain one of the primary sources of digital video news dissemination in India. And as we all know by now, WhatsApp forwards and credibility don’t go hand-in-hand.

Where do we go from here? I’m afraid, nowhere in particular. In a world of umpteen media options, the news consumers are now on their own, left to figure out what’s credible and what’s not. It’s ironical at one level, unnerving at another. And it may stay like that for a while.

 

 

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